Every two weeks, Alex Chinitz swallows the strangest of brews: fruit juice with 20 to 30 larvae of Hymenolepis diminuta mixed in. That fancy Latin word is the name of a helminth — a tapeworm, to be precise — that can grow to 30 centimeters.

The larvae Alex drinks are not visible, nor can he taste them. They are encased in tiny cysts, and under a microscope, they look like seeds — only with eyespots and tails. By the time they reach Alex’s mouth, they have already passed through several other organisms: The adult parasites lay eggs in rats’ intestines; the rats excrete the eggs; beetles eat the rats’ feces; and inside the beetles, the eggs hatch into larvae. After Alex swallows them, the larvae swim around in the lumen of his gut and die about 10 to 14 days later.

Alex, 25, is autistic and nonverbal, so he cannot tell us what he thinks of this concoction. But his mother, Judy Chinitz, gives it full credit for having eased some of Alex’s autism traits.

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